The move to 5G and the increasing availability of Internet of things (IoT) devices will bring numerous benefits — along with some challenges — to public safety operations as the country moves toward next-generation 911 (NG-911) services, speakers said today at a Telecommunications Industry Association event.
“Creating a strong, nationwide 5G infrastructure will allow public safety answering points and first responders to rely on the Internet of Things to carry out their crucial mission effectively and efficiently,” TIA Chief Executive Officer Wes Johnston said. The deployment of IoT devices will also present “new challenges” for public safety officials, he said, ranging from implementation costs to concerns about interoperability between new and existing technologies.
“In order to fully harness the potential of these emerging technologies, industry experts are going to have to work hand in hand with first responders and government officials to ensure a smooth and seamless integration of next generation technologies into the evolving existing public safety networks,” Mr. Johnston said.
There is “quite a bit of focus” in Congress on IoT issues, Rep. Susan Brooks (R., Ind.) said at the event, adding communications systems need to optimized to ensure the “incredible skills” of the nation’s first responders can be deployed effectively.
“[I]f they can’t communicate and they arrive [at a scene] and can’t find out what the game plan is, then, quite frankly, it’s an incredible waste of resources and it impedes their ability to save lives,” Rep. Brooks said. “In this incredibly … fast-paced world, it’s just so easy for us to take for granted the fact that we have these technologies, but yet we’ve got to make sure that they work.”
It is important that Congress explore how 5G “can help us save lives and enhance public safety communications,” Ms. Brooks said. She pointed to her state’s implementation of text-to-911 as a sign of how important new technologies can be to enhancing emergency services.
“We have had an incredibly robust focus on our first responder 911 systems” in Indiana, she said.
Other applications, such as enabling streaming video from emergency scenes, are among the other things that could aid first responders, she said.
Ms. Brooks said the House Energy and Commerce Committee is putting a “huge amount of focus on 5G” because the U.S. is “in a race” with other countries to lead the way in rolling out new services. “I would say that right now, the United States is kind of lagging behind a bit,” she said. “Other countries are kind of pulling ahead of us. And we are the country of innovation. We have to do what we can to keep up and to make sure that we are not holding back the innovation.”
The committee is focused on infrastructure deployment, spectrum availability, and supply chain risks, she said. “We have to try and make sure the government isn’t in the way, that the government is not getting in the way of this innovation and that our rules and regulations aren’t impeding deployment of things like 5G. We’ve got to work through pushing obstacles to broadband deployment.”
She noted companies deploying 5G infrastructure must deal encounter regulations at the local, state, and federal level. “So, there are a lot of obstacles that can really come into play,” Ms. Brooks said.
As an example of what she thinks was a positive development, Ms. Brooks pointed to provisions in the RAY BAUM’S Act of 2018 that updated and streamlined various FCC rules. “It was a huge win,” she said. “We were very proud of that work. But we have to continue to make sure that the United States of America will be the best place to innovate, to create businesses, to grow businesses. … That‘s one of our challenges, government is too slow to keep up with all of the innovation that is happening. So how do we as government try and make sure that we’re not getting in the way of these technologies? How do we keep pace? There’s no way, frankly, we can keep pace. We cannot keep pace. But we can make sure the rules and regulations and laws in place that allow for the flexibility that might be guardrails, but they aren’t roadblocks. We have to make sure it’s not so rigid and inflexible that we create roadblocks.”
Ms. Brooks also credited the FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai for making “great strides” toward streamlining regulations.
During a panel discussion, NG-911 Institute Executive Director Patrick Halley said that NG-911 will be a wholesale “replacement” for existing 911 service rather than the kind of incremental upgrades that have taken place since 911 first began.
“It’s making the 911 system up to date with modern technology capable of any form of voice, video, and data.”
Verizon Director–public sector product strategy Nick Nilan said it is “incumbent” upon service providers to “share information from our network into the 911 centers today and then in the future with NG 911 and the amazing capabilities that’s going to enable.”
Completing standards will be critical so that NG 911 can “be rolled out nationwide and that calls go through and [so] that IoT devices can connect to first responders,” he said.
Karima Holmes, director of the Washington, D.C., Office of Unified Communications argued that implementing NG 911 will be like “gutting out 911 and changing how we do things.”
Training 911 center staff to deal with new technologies will be increasingly important, she added, noting operators will have to learn to incorporate things such as being able to see pictures or live video of emergencies into how they deal with calls. “We’re very receptive to it,” she said. “We’re very happy to see it happening.”
NG 911 will be the “tip of the spear” of the “end-to-end workflow” of first responders, said Rohit Bhanot, vice president–public safety product development for Nokia’s Public Sector Practice. There will also have to be an educational process to teach consumers about new capabilities, he noted.
IoT devices will play an important role in public safety operations in the future, Mr. Halley said. “I’m really excited about the Internet of things for public safety,” he said. “I think there’s going to be numerous potential benefits for the public and the consumers who need help, as well as for responders in the field and the public safety professionals answering 911 calls, whether [the calls are] generated by a human or machine. That’s going to be a game changer.”
The ability of IoT devices to contact emergency services automatically “could be amazingly great, or it could cause problems if it’s not done directly,” he added. —Jeff Williams